Jeanette McFarlane is hoping to help grow better people.
The former outdoor education instructor for the Mansfield Outdoor Centre has created a real-life experience program called Dufferin Sustainable Educational Experiential Development School (SEEDS) Learning Farm, which looks to teach local children about the environment, food, and agriculture.
“I really wanted to do something for my community, where I live. I want a community of great people and that means positively affecting children’s lives and wanting them to grow up to make good decision for the place they live and for the people they care about,” said McFarlane. “Dufferin SEEDS connects kids to the earth. A learning farm that strives to help grown better people.”
In early spring, McFarlane was approached by Joan VanDuzen, owner of the 100-acre Mansfield Heritage Farm, about creating an on-farm experiential agricultural program for children.
“As an educator, I’m always looking for ways to continue learning and getting kids outside. In this day and age, we are spending way too much time indoors, and it’s time to get kids back outdoors,” said McFarlane. “So here was this opportunity where someone wants to give kids the chance to come to a farm, and give access that perhaps they won’t [have] with school, and the changing landscape of education.”
McFarlane noted the programs opportunity to reintroduce hands-on experience with food literacy ahead of Bill 126, if passed. Bill 126, Food Literacy for Students Act is currently in the Ontario Legislature and would require all school boards to provide curriculum in experiential food literacy and healthy eating for grades 1 through grade 12.
After further research, McFarlane developed a proposal for a pilot of the program which she said was to see if the community and parents were wanting agricultural experiences for their children.
The SEEDS pilot program had 25 children from ages four to twelve participate and saw them plant potatoes, make butter and ice cream, learn about soil health, and the value of land.
“We focus on food, where your food comes from, the value of food and land because a lot of times people just think to go to the grocery store, but they don’t realize what that does from an environmental standpoint. Appreciating how much work goes into getting a dozen eggs, into growing potatoes, beans, lettuce, carrots and all that stuff builds a better or healthier relationship for kids and their food,” said McFarlane.
Speaking to the community response to the pilot program, McFarlane noted, “The response was tremendous. People definitely want this experience for their kids and these experiences really make an impact at a young age, on a person’s life. We want them to be positive experiences so that they go in turn and grow into better people.”
While the pilot program was held earlier this month, Dufferin SEEDS Learning Farm will be officially launching the on-farm program come September.
McFarlane said the specific curriculum for the program is still in the works but will likely be tied to the season.
“There is a time period in September and October which is great for harvesting, storage of food and preparation, and looking at that in tandem with animals, the wildlife and the fall migration/hibernation.”
The Dufferin SEEDS Learning Farm will primarily be focused for elementary age children between the ages of five to 12.
Paula Brown, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Shelburne Free Press